Related to my last post, today I stumbled upon this from Jadaliyya. Zachary Sheldon writes about working intimately with Janet Abu-Lughod’s library. I can’t think of any experience more charged than to be enmeshed in someone’s library. A person collects herself in paper, and leaves this fragments of her soul behind, and then we conjure one hundred life stories from them. Nothing more charged with desire, more enmeshed in between the intimate, the academic , and the historical landscapes.
I keep returning to this, because my time in the archive for my dissertation work, proved to be shaking on a more profound level than a space or source of data. It created a material intimacy with the architect, even though I went in with apathy about himself, and interest in one specific work. Through out the time I started to- and I admit- I left myself wander about and follow a thread (Ariadne’s or not I am not sure) into the path and fantasies of the practices of self collection he practiced. This remains perhaps the most imaginative aspect of my last year. Just today I took a quick glimpse in Mies van der Rohe’s exhibition in RIBA, and simply the affinity of architects everyday material from the time, threw me into Cairo’s dusty boxes. I always wonder if I had more time, how many stories I would rearrange from these fragments? how many routes would I take among the boxes? How more time will I keep walking through a maze before the cat swallows me up? was sort of selves would I imagine out libraries, what sort of self do I leave in my very meagre one?
I have to images the one of the stork, and the one of the flame. The stork is from Adriana Cavarero’s book in which recounts a fable, and recasts the question of whether our footsteps in life will leave an image of a stork in morning, wether our act in life, our wording would amount to a story, a narratable self? The flame is from the only novel of Umberto Eco’s (yes the one with the legendary antilibrary) that brings in me a sense of warmth, that is the Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, about someone who loses his memory, and can not remember who he is, yet can remember what he read, and tries to retell himself the story of himself anew through what he had read. To collect and to fragment, and to leave a self behind, collected and fragmented, for us, “young scholars”, to wander in.
For a young scholar, a figure like Janet Abu-Lughod can seem almost impossibly prolific. Among the fields to which Abu-Lughod made celebrated contributions, we find urban sociology, world systems theory, studies of colonialism, and racial injustice (from Palestine, to the United States, to Morocco!), the history of Cairo, globalization, the politics of neighborhood preservation, and…